Who owns what in organic foods
August 2005

You may be surprised. See the chart at





"The natural-food movement is being bought up by Phillip Morris and

H.J. Heinz and Jimmy Dean."


Grist: What are some companies that you think are successfully

forging new, sustainable corporate practices?


Hawken: Hmm ... uh, well ... there aren't too many, and people don't

know them so well. Hartmann in Denmark, they do molded-fiber

packaging. Uh, let's see. Natura in Brazil is a cosmetic company that

works very closely with indigenous people and farmers in Brazil. It

works with poor people to develop cash crops that are productive and

sustainable for their cultures. Novo Nordisk, they do a lot of work

with enzymes that save energy and eliminate chemical use. There's

Plambeck in Germany that does great wind parks. STMicroelectronics is

a company doing very interesting stuff with a new solar photovoltaic

technology that could make solar energy cheaper than all other forms

of electricity. Svenska Cellulosa is doing some great things with

respect to sustainable forestry. Vestas, the big wind company in

Denmark. Easto, a large organic produce company in Europe which does

a lot of biodynamic stuff. And of course there is ShoreBank, the

enterprise work that Ecotrust is doing, Patagonia, Cooperative Bank

in England, and more.


Grist: So it doesn't sound like there are many companies in America

that you're excited about. Can you compare some of these European

companies to American companies? For instance, can you elaborate on

why, say, Whole Foods doesn't strike you as an example of a good



Hawken: Whole Foods dismantles local food webs and doesn't foster

what the organic movement is about. The organic and natural-food

movement that I helped kick off in the late '60s was the beginning of

recreating regional food webs. Local stores started all around the

country and they began to source locally, and whatever they couldn't

get locally they got regionally, and whatever they couldn't get

regionally they got nationally. In terms of produce and bakery goods

and other food items, there was a huge diversity of suppliers in the

United States because there was a huge diversity of stores. Whole

Foods went in and bought out the bigger, more successful stores and

then rebranded them and did centralized purchasing for produce, which

now comes from Chile and New Zealand and places like that. In the

process, many local organic producers went out of business. Massive

scale and centralization of power and capital is the antithesis of

what we had in mind when we started the natural and organic-food

business in the U.S.


Grist: But does that totally discredit the positive things they are doing?


Hawken: Good deeds don't erase bad outcomes. But let's talk about the

positive things they are doing.


Grist: Well, let's say they use recycled packaging and keep

pesticides out of the soil. Isn't large-scale organic farming better

than non-organic factory farms?


Hawken: Yes, but still it's large-scale agribusiness.


Grist: But they're better than Safeway.


Hawken: They are guided by profit. So are small companies. So far so

good. But when a company gets large and dominant, the same instincts

to survive and prosper can become unintentionally harmful. The

natural-food movement is being bought up by Phillip Morris and H.J.

Heinz and Jimmy Dean. That dog won't hunt. It leads to a lowering of

standards, and emphasis on price as opposed to cost. It leads to

uniformity, power, concentration, and control. Luckily, there's a

slow food movement in the U.S. and lots of things happening that

counter that.


Grist: And I guess what's more troubling is that Whole Foods can get

away with it more easily than Safeway because everybody thinks of

them as green. The branding is so powerful that nobody thinks to

question it.


Hawken: To me the company that is exemplary is the New Seasons Market

in Portland, Ore. They buy everything they can locally. These are

real community food stores with wonderful food and fresh produce and

fish. They know the purveyors, they talk about them. They really feed

and enhance the local food web of Oregon and southern Washington and

Northern California. They are to me your model of what a grocery

store can do to help farmers and citizens and communities. And

they're price-competitive. I asked them why they didn't come to the

Bay area [where I live] and they said, "No! We're local!"


Grist: So how could we push this model nationally? Can we introduce

federal-level incentives?


Hawken: Not really -- it's about culture and community. Anyone can do

a New Seasons if they are in a community that wants it. And the

people who started it -- they have the DNA, they understand what it

means to be socially and culturally responsible.